When Dean Nicholson set off on a round-the-world bike adventure, the bearded Scotsman was planning a solo trip. But three months into his epic journey, he stopped for a break in the mountains between Bosnia and Montenegro, and heard faint meowing.
Scampering along the road he found a “scrappy wee thing” that fitted into the palm of his hand. Afraid that the kitten would be run over or snatched by a bird of prey, Dean put her into the pouch on the front of his bike, and set off to look for a rescue centre.
But the grey-and-white kitten – who he christened Nala, after Simba’s childhood friend in The Lion King, had other ideas and quickly made herself comfortable on Dean’s shoulder.
It became her favourite place to perch.
“Spending all this time with her, I just basically fell in love with her character. She’s just a brilliant cat,” he said.
Dean started to document their journeys on Instagram, and the odd couple became a viral sensation, with followers of Dean’s 1bike1world Instagram page soaring from 3,000 to 150,000 in one day.
Strangers stopped him on the street and asked for selfies with Nala: “It beggared belief how many people had been touched by our little story,” he said.
Now more than one million fans follow their adventures on YouTube and Instagram and Dean has even written several books about their travels.
He says: “We were an unusual sight; a big, bearded tattooed bloke on a bike, with a kitten sitting on his shoulder like Long John Silver’s parrot.”
For two years, the unlikely duo rode from Montenegro to Greece, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Altogether they travelled through 18 countries.
They hunkered down in Austria through lockdown, before heading through Asia and finally on to Thailand.
The pair have also raised money for charity, with a calendar featuring photos of Nala raising £90,000 for 30 different charities: “She not only changed my world,” Dean said. “She changed the world around me.”
Dogs Trust expert Dr Rachel Casey answers your canine conundrums.
My dog is not a fan of fireworks – she hides under the bed when the loud bangs start. With firework season just round the corner, what can I do to help her cope?
Fireworks can be very scary for dogs – about half of dogs in the UK are worried by the unpredictable bangs and whooshes.
It’s best to plan well ahead before firework events start, so you’re set up to help her cope.
Dogs respond to fireworks in different ways. Many try and find a place to hide away; others might bark, look for reassurance or show more subtle signs of anxiety like panting.
It’s great that you have already noted how she normally reacts to fireworks.
Hiding is her way of coping, and the best way to help her is to make hiding as easy and safe as possible during firework events.
Create a safe and for her to retreat to well in advance – near the middle of the house away from windows if possible.
When they are scared dogs like to squeeze themselves into a tight space, so fill her den with blankets so she can bury herself in away from the noises.
Encourage her to use the space before the fireworks start, for example by giving her a long-lasting chew or treat in the den.
When the bangs begin, stay in with your dog so you can be on hand to be there if she needs you.
Make sure you check on her regularly but only give her fuss if she comes to you for reassurance. Leave her to hide in her ‘den’ if that’s where she chooses to be.
You can also help to block out some noise by closing the curtains and turning on the TV or some music.
Although you’re worried about her, it will help if you try to remain calm and relaxed yourself.
It’s also important to speak to your vet for extra help – they will be able to refer you to a qualified behaviourist or recommend other treatments which will help your dog cope better during fireworks events.